Monday, April 29, 2013

The Cost of a Wedding

In 1994, my wedding cost about $7,500. (Economics people: you can translate that to today’s relative cost.)  As an older bride and groom, we could have paid for it; however, my parents insisted on shelling out the bulk of the funds for the ceremony and Darling Husband’s parents paid for a rehearsal dinner. The number of guests was about 130; the wedding party small—very. I had a matron of honor; DH had a best man. We had a flower girl, a ring bearer, a reader, a singer, a pianist, a couple ushers, and a couple hostesses.

To be honest, the wedding was not for me. Never in my life did I visualize myself in a wedding dress until I actually had to—when it was decided that we’d have a wedding after getting engaged. The plans started as a small, immediate family gathering, then changed to a small church ceremony, then escalated to a large gathering—because of course, we couldn’t leave anyone out. I was fine with plan A; however, my mother and husband-to-be were not. Soon, I realized that I could not cheat Mom out of a (mostly) traditional wedding for her only daughter; it was her one chance to have the experience. DH likes getting together with family and friends, so he was all for it, too.

Anyway, we got married at the Sheraton Hotel. With its huge atrium, it was an attractive place for our guests to walk into before entering the revamped large meeting room that was set up with a church-like seating arrangement. A few large plants and a candelabra thrown in, and “Voila,” we were good to go.  The ushers rolled down the aisle runner and Dad and I stepped onto it and took our walk. A half hour later, I was hitched.

After photos and the traditional dances, I spent much of the reception in the adjacent banquet room being proudly introduced to DH’s many friends. At some point, my friends grabbed me away to spend a few moments with them. DH and I never sat at the “head table,” and never ate beyond a morsel or two. From what I was told, the large variety of our buffet’s heavy hors d’oeuvres, accompanied by an enormous ice sculpture, was delicious. Late in the festivities, I danced a little; I remember doing the Electric Slide.

It was fun.

My existing joy, though, stems from giving Mom the gift of having a wedding, where she paced around nervously, trying to assure that all was going well so that her daughter and new son-in-law could have a joyful and memorable experience. She would lose hours of sleep over the next week as she went through the post-wedding planner withdrawal… you know… when you question everything that should or should not have been done.

I’ve been to many weddings over the years; three of them as a bridesmaid. The first weddings, those of college friends who married very young, were held at churches and the receptions in banquet halls and chain hotels, as mine was. In my eyes, everything was lovely; though in hindsight, I see that they were not on the economic scale of some of the more recent weddings I’ve attended.  Just starting their careers and also being the children of average income parents, the bride and groom married within reasonable standards.

Nowadays, DH and I are invited to the weddings of the children of our friends, whose budgets seem beyond that of my college friends. During the planning of a few, I’ve been told of the goings-on and how much things cost. Let’s just say, “I am amazed.” When a friend told me that a florist gave her a $4000 estimate for the flower arrangements that her daughter likes, I gasped. Talkin’ about a boost to the economy!

An article in the Huffington Post on 3/7/13, said the average wedding in 2012 costs $28,427, excluding the honeymoon, according to and, who surveyed 17,500 brides who hired a professional vendor. On the upper end are weddings in Manhattan, averaging $76,678 and on the lower end, Alaska (they didn’t even bother to specify a city), averaging “$15,504. Couples say they want lots of fun and/or elegance and are focusing on pleasing their guests.
When I told my friend and another friend with us, that I hope to keep a wedding for my daughter under $20,000, or whatever is comparable when she gets married, they laughed. They said they should record me saying it and play it back when the time comes.
To which I responded: “Poor people have weddings; don’t they?”
I was trying to make a point when I said, “poor people.” Actually, I meant people who don’t want to spend $30,000 on a wedding; like people who have a reception at a clubhouse or in the large back yard of someone’s home where the food is prepared by an eager small business caterer. It can be done. I’ve seen my girls watching that show called Four Weddings where not everyone appears to be spending mega bucks.
I may end up eating my words and forking out my retirement dollars for grand weddings for my daughters—I doubt it, but… who knows? Maybe DH and I will be wealthy by then and it won’t matter; but right now, I’m not feelin' it.
In case you’re thinking that I’m anti-wedding, I’m not. A wedding is a (1-day) celebration of marriage, a life changing event that shapes our lives into being more loving and trusting, gaining wisdom as time goes on—hopefully.  It is not the marriage. After exchanging the vows, it’s a party; one that is going to be critiqued, complimented, or judged regardless of how much money is spent and of how much effort goes into “pleasing the guests.” Bottom line--$100,000, $50,000, or $3000—it should be one that you can afford.
‘Tis the Season for upcoming weddings! Do you have any emotions or opinions you’d like to share?

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MissKris said...

We got married at one of my brothers' house because he had a fireplace and I wanted to be married in front of one...don't ask me why. We had a best man and maid of honor and 25 close friends/immediate family. A dear friend sang a song he'd composed. We had a barbecue out in the back yard afterwards. 39 years later, I wouldn't go back and change a thing. Everyone pitched in with the food. I think the only expenses my parents had were my bouquet and 2 urns of flowers on the hearth and the steaks for the barbecue. I bought a dress - not a wedding one - off the rack at a department store. PRECIOUS memories. And our best man had hair longer than mine, haha!

Tabor said...

I gave my daughter 15k for her wedding a decade ago and said that was all I was prepared to spend. Her in-laws added maybe anotehr 10K? and her and her future husband probably added almost as much! It WAS a grand wedding. But money has little to do with a beautiful wedding. It is the people and how comfortable they are. I will spend 15K and little more (rehearsal dinner) on my son;s wedding this summer. My wedding time I was a graduate student, parents did not chip in one penny nor even come, and it cost me under $800. I regret that...but just a little, because money is not a big thing in my life.

Mari said...

I can't believe what weddings cost now! I've been married for almost 32 years so things have definitely changed. Our daughter got married 6 years ago and it cost under $5000 but was very nice. She got married and had the reception at our church and there was no charge for that, plus a friend is a caterer and did the food very reasonably. Laura worked for a florist and did her own flowers. That all made a big difference!

Shelly said...

My oldest just got married this past December, and although it was a fairly small wedding, the cost was huge, especially when I compare it to my husband's and mine 28 years ago.

You are right- it should be what you can afford want and not what the trend makers say it should be.

Unknown said...

Good grief! I had no idea. I was married in the dark ages. My parents debated spending over $500 on a dress I loved when the budget was much less and gave in to me. That was our splurge! The rest was church ladies in the basement cutting cake. My own daughter was married several years back and we spent a bit over $5000. I thought that was bad. It was a lovely outside wedding with a reception in a hotel. I'm glad I have no more daughters to marry, although she is single again! What is the etiquette on second marriages?

Julie Magers Soulen Photography

Rob-bear said...

More history, from 44 years ago. My wife and I got married in our church. We had the reception in the church basement. I don't know what it cost, but it cannot have been much. Even the cake was a gift, made by a neighbour.

Our son and dil got married on their place out in the country. My wife and I were there (she presided), our daughter came, as did a friend of dil.

I've presided at a lot of weddings. They seem to be getting bigger and bigger. The "joys" of a consumer society, perhaps.

Blessings and Bear hugs!
Bears Noting
Life in the Urban Forest (poetry)

Hilary said...

I cringe at the way money is spent on weddings - particularly by those who can least afford them. I honestly think it's nuts. I married twice. Both were City Hall weddings with very small receptions for immediate family and friends at someone's home. I don't remember the cost but it was probably considerably less than $1,000 each time. Quite possibly less than $500.

I attended a family wedding in August. The mother of the bride is divorced, and money is always a serious issue for her. Somehow she pulled off this big wedding for her daughter. Leading up to the event were two engagement parties and two bridal showers. I was invited to one of each of those. I was beginning to resent the money grab it was becoming. The wedding was lovely. That was early August. The couple separated by late September. The wedding is just an event to commemorate a commitment. Its size is not indicative of anything more than extravagance. Focus on the partnership and learn how to spend money wisely.

Rob-bear said...

Great, Hilary!

~ Bear

Abby said...

You and I are marching to the same drummer here!

This has been a topic of conversation with my husband lately - a niece is getting married soon as is one of his coworker friends. It seems like SO much money and energy is put into weddings, these days, but as far as I know, couples divorce just as often as ever. Weddings have become more important than the marriages!

MissKris said...

I'm with Hilary and Abby. Gotta keep up with the Joneses, don'tcha know. Put the money down on a house! Something practical! Why'll be divorced in a month! Oh my, but I'm getting cynical in my older age, ha! A wedding may be a dream, but marriage, alas, is REAL life. And like anything in real life, it succeeds because of commitment and hard work.

Linda Hensley said...

I got married in the park, with a BBQ afterwards. The guests were relaxed and said it was the best wedding they'd ever gone to because it was casual and friendly. In the end, we actually made money from the gifts which helped us put a down payment on a house. The only thing I'd change now is who I married since we later got divorced. The wedding is just a party, and we're supposed to invite people who care about our future happiness. Of course we can all say that, but when people succumb to the pressure to make it the world's best party, they give up buying a house, paying off student loans, or providing for their future children's futures. You've got to admit the wedding planners have been very successful in marketing themselves!

Arlee Bird said...

Personally I think the money spent for a big money is that money could be better invested. The weddings are fun, but they go by and they are in the end just a memory with some photographs. It's just another indulgence. I'm happy that I haven't been invited to many weddings and have never participated in any other than my own and two of my daughters.

Bah humbug!

An A to Z Co-Host
Tossing It Out

Betty W said...

You know we just paid for two weddings in the time of three months apart and the cost was about the same for both. Luckily we don't pay in dollars down here, but it was a lot of money for us too. Roughly $8000 each. I love your attitude and I hope your daughters will go along with it. A lot of things can be done more cost effectively if you have time to do it yourself. Ours was a little bit too quick.

Unknown said...

My baby girl got married yesterday. I didn't come out of my pocket for it. Her husband's family volunteered to pay for a few things that they chose to do but because it was such a simple ceremony, it was very inexpensive.

The wedding was outdoors. It was by a lake with geese and a beautiful fountain. The only "wedding party" was both of us moms and my daughter's father in law who handed him the ring at the perfect time.

There was a brunch afterwards that dd's new parent in laws surprised everyone and paid for. They put more of their expenses in saving for the honeymoon, their outfits and a small bouquet for the bride.

It was the most intimate, special wedding ever. I am glad that they chose that as a way to start their lives together. I hear about way too many couples that go for broke trying to have the perfect wedding and then, their marriage falls apart and they are left with major bills to sort through.

Barb said...

Oh this brings back memories, Anita - some ancient and some more recent. Bob and I will soon be married for 47 years. We had my college debt to pay off and had no money to spare. But, his family was/is religious so we wanted to please them. We had a small church service with the reception at the church - maybe 50 people mostly family. A seamstress who was friends with my Mom made my bridal gown and long dresses for the bridesmaids. What I remember most is my husband's Boutonniere shaking like crazy when I walked toward him down the isle. He was VERY nervous! We told our kids if they had a family-only wedding we would give them the cash they didn't spend on a big wedding to start their married life. They all opted to do just that. All the weddings were personal and memorable - just intimate and inexpensive. I'm at Bryce with little or no internet/phone service. Hope this sends!

Rebecca S. said...

Great post, Anita.
Our wedding cost about $1500. The wedding dress was a gift, the caterer just getting started and giving us a great deal. We got married in the morning and had a brunch, my grandad supplying champagne for a toast. The hall for the reception cost $120 to rent for the day. Our rings were lovely, handmade but not expensive. As for flowers, I bought $35 worth of lilies and we did the rest ourselves with lilacs pilfered from the neighbourhood (it was May) and local greenery.
I wonder how it will be when my kids get married. Poor people do manage to get married, elegantly too :)

Buckeroomama said...

Both hubby and I paid for our wedding. We were both in our early 30s and were fairly "established" by then in our careers, that we did not feel right that our parents had to pay for our wedding. We spent what we had to; we did not scrimp, but did not spend extravagantly either. I love how everything in ours turned out... just right. :)

Though prepared to spend on our children's weddings wayyyyy down the line and we probably would insist on contributing somehow, I would prefer that they get married when they could afford to pay for their own weddings (whether big or small).

Hildred Congdon said...

Getting married is not a simple matter. You have to think a million times over before you decide to tie the knots, especially with the cost. There's no harm spending great money with this kind of event; however, it would still be best if you try to spend your money wisely.

-Hildred @